29 3 / 2013

I grew up in a family that loved college basketball.  Both of my parents grew up in Indiana and Hoosiers was a regular movie event at our house.  Thank goodness when DVDs came out we could watch it that much more often.  In my household, Bobby Knight was somewhere close to God and March was the most exciting time of the year.  I grew up in a family where there were a few expectations that could not be avoided…I would go to college and I would fill out a bracket and compete in the March madness family competition.

I also grew up in a family where we are, as I like to say, vertically challenged.  My dad, who made his career as a very successful physician would gladly have traded his white lab coat for a career as a basketball player and / or coach but for his stature made that a foregone conclusion.

I proudly inherited this vertical disadvantage—at least when it comes to basketball, my stature is perfect for cramped airline seats and the climbing into the back seat of small, two-door cars—in fact I’m the shortest person in two generations, standing just 4 feet 10 ½ inches.  (I relish that ½ inch!)

I would have loved to play basketball in high school.  I tried out for the JV team and when the coach announced she had taken a short player I was sure it was me.  Turned out it was my friend Sue who was 5’4””.  NOT short in my world!

I would love to be able to dunk a basketball, just once, on a hoop that can’t be purchased at ToysRUs.

My dad used to say that watching the Big O (Oscar Robertson) was like watching magic. 

For me, watching Britney Griner is like watching magic. 

And not just because she dunks, though that is very cool, but also because she blocks, dishes out, is a selfless player and has a turn move over both shoulders.  And, because I am totally enamored with her height.  I can’t begin to imagine what the world looks like from 6 feet 8 inches…nearly 2 feet taller than my vantage point.

I have read in many interviews when Griner is asked about her height that her response is positive.  She recently said that as she got taller and taller (she was 6 feet tall in the 9th grade) that she kept hoping she’d keep getting taller.  Not like many taller women who slump their shoulders to make themselves appear shorter, Griner owns her height.  And she is proud of it.

Britney Griner and I have one thing in common:  we both grew up in families that taught us to value ourselves for who we are, to value our height.  

I, too, own my height.  Sure, I dabble in high heels sometimes, but only for fun as I know the impact on my height is not only negligible but fleeting.  Plus they make my feet hurt!

If offered the opportunity to be taller I would never, never, in a million years take it.

People often respond with surprise when they learn how short I am.  They say, “Wow, you don’t seem so short.”  Pondering this reaction over many years I’ve come to the conclusion that one adaptation I had to my vertical challenge was to develop a very big personality.  I was NOT going to get lost in the crowd!  I developed a personality that people would be forced to notice.  And, I believe today that is one of my greatest assets.  If I had been born to taller parents and grown taller myself, maybe I wouldn’t have the same personality I have now.

What I find most interesting about the way in which Britney Griner is treated in the media—many people question her gender identity, others say she is too aggressive and not feminine enough—is the incredible negativity and often meanness that peppers the comments people make, in public, about someone they don’t even know.  In contrast, people seem completely enamored with “little people.”  TLC is bursting with shows about little people and their families and lives, focusing on their custom built houses with low countertops and toilets, their custom furniture and whether or not their progeny will be or are little.  

If Britney Griner is no more physically remarkable—-statistically speaking—- than those of us who are little people then why are little people so endearing and Britney so threatening? 

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Britney Griner is taller and more physically powerful than 99% of men.  The only men in her height and strength class are men’s basketball and football players, and even there, like LeBron James who shares her height, she is taller than most of them.

Perhaps men are threatened by a woman who can play basketball better than they can and who can dominate them physically.  Perhaps they worry that if women like Griner can excel in the masculine world of athletics then they might be capable of dominating in other areas as well, like politics and business.  If women can be strong and tall and powerful like Griner and threaten the very core of masculinity—SportsWorld— then maybe they can also be smart and challenge in that realm as well.

To all of the critics of Griner, the vast majority of whom have probably never dunked a basketball, I suggest you sit back and enjoy watching one of the most talented female athletes to ever play the game.  You are lucky to have the chance to watch her play. 

And, if you are threatened by her talent, that is your problem, not hers!

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